April 06, 2016

Gators QB Kyle Trask emerging as an intriguing project

GAINESVILLE -- Kyle Trask was a two-star recruit and a backup quarterback at Manvel High in Texas, but the 6-foot-4, 227-pound early enrollee has emerged as an interesting arm in Florida’s four-headed battle for the starting job. 

Although the freshman will almost certainly not win the competition, Trask has impressed both coaches and teammates throughout spring practice, oftentimes showcasing the best pure arm-talent of anyone in the group. 

“As far as the eye test, the kid is big and he can throw,” UF superstar cornerback Jalen Tabor said. 

“I tried to bait him into one play in the scrimmage and he baited me. He threw it right over my head, I'm like, 'Oh, I thought I had it,' but he put it right on a dime. He can definitely drop dimes."

Trask played behind D’Eriq King, a Houston signee, in high school, but Florida’s coaches were intrigued by the freshman’s measurables, competitiveness and potential upside.  

“I say this about that guy -- overtime you tried to say, ‘Well, I’m not so sure, and he did something that said you are sure,’” Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. 

"If you just turned on the film when he played in the games and looked at his production, it’s pretty darn good now. You look at the decision making, the size, arm strength, accuracy and say, ‘What box aren’t you checking, what are we missing here.'”

Trask threw for 10 touchdowns as a senior, and while he came to UF as a project, the early enrollee is quickly overcoming his inexperience and could potentially see the field sooner than many people anticipated. 

“I love Trask,” Tabor said.

“He has the prettiest ball. Now it’s different when you get under the live bullets in the SEC. Guys like Dante Fowler, Jarvis Jones coming after you. Can you still step up in the pocket and deliver a ball to help your team win? That’s the only question I have for him.”

GRIER FINDS A LANDING SPOT

Former UF starting quarterback Will Grier transferred to West Virginia, the school announced Wednesday. Grier must sit out the 2016 season but will have two years of eligibility remaining. Grier was suspended for a calendar-year on Oct. 12 for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He later left Florida in December and it remains to be seen whether or not his suspension will run concurrently with his transfer. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 04, 2016

UF forward Devin Robinson mulling entering the NBA Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s sophomore swingman Devin Robinson could test the NBA waters, according to coach Mike White. 

The Gators' 6-foot-8 forward averaged 9.0 points on 46 percent shooting in 2015-16. He shot 34 percent from 3, adding 5.7 rebounds. 

Robinson was Florida’s sixth-man for much of the season before starting the team’s final nine games of the year.

“Devin’s got a very high ceiling,” White said Monday. 

“He’s very talented. I think in the back of everyone’s mind, especially with the new rule, most guys at this level are always at least somewhat considering it. I don't know whether he declares or not but I think we find out soon."

Under the new rules, Robinson could enter the draft, participate in the combine and then decide to return to school -- so long as he doesn’t hire an agent. 

White “would like to see Devin come back,” but Florida’s coach supports any decision Robinson makes. 

“I’d like to continue coaching him,” White said, adding that Robinson is home in Virginia mulling the decision. 

“I thought he made a very big jump this year. And I think he could make a equally as big if not bigger jump next year.”

According to most draft rankings, Robinson would be wise to return to school, as DraftExpress.com ranks the forward No. 71 overall and CBSSports.com lists Robinson as the 98th best prospect

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April 02, 2016

Gators assistants recap team's second spring scrimmage

GAINESVILLE -- Florida scrimmaged for the second time this spring Friday, and according to several Gators assistants, players on both sides of the ball turned heads. 

Junior-college tailback Mark Thompson, competing with Miami natives Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett for the carries, scored a “60 to 70 yard touchdown,” according to tight ends coach Greg Nord. 

“We had a few explosive plays that we’ve been looking for out of the offense,” he said. 

“That was good to see.” 

Nord also highlighted big plays by senior wideout Ahmad Fulwood and junior tight end DeAndre Goolsby. 

“Fulwood had a nice catch-and-run,” Nord said. 

“We had Mark [Thompson] get out and get the big run. Goolsby had a nice long catch. There were several other, which is good.”

Defensively, Florida’s secondary forced multiple turnovers Friday, not including a negated pick-six by nickelback Duke Dawson. 

“We got our hands on the ball, and we did some positive things,” UF secondary coach Torrian Gray said.

“But there were also some long plays that we got to clean up.”

Gray noted that early enrollee Chauncey Gardner, who recently moved to safety, had an interception, as did senior safety Marcus Maye. 

“Overall, we’re going to like what we’re going to put on film with the understanding that we’ve got a lot of work to still do,” Gray said. 

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March 31, 2016

Q&A: A six-pack of questions for LB coach Randy Shannon

GAINESVILLE -- Gators co-defensive coordinator and linebackers assistant Randy Shannon recently met with reporters and discussed replacing Florida’s leading tackler the last two seasons (Antonio Morrison), Jarrad Davis’ development into a star and what he expects from Alex Anzalone next season. The former Miami Hurricanes alum and head coach also identified exactly where linebackers need to improve and how Miami Norland linebacker Rayshad Jackson fits into the mix.

What exactly do you lose with Morrison off to the NFL?

 "A senior who played a lot. But it's time for other guys to step up. Daniel McMillian played a lot last year for us, there's opportunity for him to come up.” 

Are you looking for Anzalone to fill that leadership void?

“Tonio' [brought] a lot to the table. He's very energetic. We always say Tone' gets guys going. He's going to shoot guys straight. Players understood if Tone' say something to you and he didn't think it was right, it wasn't right. So you lose that aspect, but then you're gaining things with Anzalone coming back, because Anzalone played a lot last year in the early part of the season. But he's that same type of guy. … Anzalone's been practicing a little bit non-contact, but he's been going through the seven-on-seven drills, been going over the things where it's not banging. So that's where a lot of leadership comes back also.”

What makes Davis a such a productive player?

“He’s competitive like Jon Vilma was. Vilma, you couldn’t, if you played cards he’d play all night until he beat you. That’s how Jarrad is: He’ll never quit. He’s going to have to win. If you want to keep competing at dominos or a game you’re gonna be up all night with it until you let him win. Very competitive in that aspect, he takes a lot of pride in himself. Athletically he has like Jon Beason-ness, the speed and the power and stuff like that and then the knowledge like Ray [Lewis] was. He has the game. He knows what to do. He knows how to get the guys lined up, and he knows how to protect certain guys on the defense with a call or something like that.”

As a whole, where do the linebackers need to improve the most?

“Just got to get better as a unit with communicating. That’s one that we’re going to continue to stress, is communication. We always have a saying, 'If we’re all wrong, then that means we’re all right.' We all on the same defensive call, the wrong defense, that means we’re going to execute it. When you’ve got guys playing two different defenses, bad things happen. So the communication factor, we want to be on point with that.”

How you do see Jackson fitting into the mix?

“He's coming along. It’s still a learning process. But like anything, he’s going to get better if he just keeps the reps. The way we practice, Rayshad’s probably averaging about 35-40 snaps in practice, so he’s getting opportunities to get better.”

Has McMillian made a jump this offseason?

“We moved him. We moved him to strong-side linebacker. He’s doing well, phenomenal. Sometimes the secondary, it’s not, maybe have an angle of something like that. We moved him at the nickel position, we’ve played him at outside linebacker, the strong-side position. He’s adapted. He’s done well at it. We’re kind of excited about the progress, the way he’s learning. Great things ahead for us and for him, because him learning the weak-side and now he’s able to play the strong-side, now we gain two positions out of one. That’s how you build depth.”

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March 29, 2016

UF retains same offensive staff for first time since 2007 season

GAINESVILLE -- The coaching carousel in football -- both in college and the pros -- is a time of year now as much as flu season, so Florida’s second-year head coach Jim McElwain placed an extra emphasis on staff continuity this offseason as he continues to rebuild the program.

Barring any unforeseen moves, the Gators will enter the fall with the same offensive staff for the first time since the 2007 season under former coach Urban Meyer. 

“When you break down a lot of those programs that have been consistently successful, they haven’t had a ton of turnover,” McElwain said. 

"That consistency is something that is huge. For us to stick together … it’s a good thing.”

Since 2007, Florida has had 21 offensive staff changes, including six coordinators and receivers coaches. 

UF’s offensive staff in 2015 and 2016

Doug Nussmeier - Offensive Coordinator/Quaterbacks coach

Kerry Dixon - Wide Receivers coach

Tim Skipper - Tailbacks coach

Mike Summers - Offensive Line coach 

Greg Nord - Tight Ends coach

UF’s offensive staff in 2006 and 2007 

Dan Mullen - Offensive Coordinator/Quaterbacks coach

Stan Drayton - Tailbacks coach

Steve Addazio - Tight Ends/Tackles coach

Billy Gonzales - Wide Receivers coach

John Hevesy - Guards/Centers coach

This offseason, Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier rebuffed Southern Miss’ advances and decided to remain in Gainesville, while the Gators retained offensive line coach Mike Summers. Kerry Dixon (receivers), Tim Skipper (tailbacks) and Greg Nord (tight ends) all remain on staff, too. 

Continuity was good for recruiting and has been evident in camp this spring also, as the open-portions of practice have run smoother. The players aren’t swimming learning a new system again, either.  

McElwain (and Florida’s administration) smartly incentivized continuity by giving assistants multi-year contracts and retention bonuses.

Now we’ll see how much the move pays dividends in the fall. 

Florida’s offense still has plenty of question marks moving forward, but a lack of staff cohesion is no longer an issue. 

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March 28, 2016

McElwain on joining the $4 million club: "I've come a ways"

GAINESVILLE -- Nearly 30 years ago, Jim McElwain earned $4,723 in his first coaching job at Eastern Washington. 

“Still have the contract,” he said, chuckling. 

To make ends meet, Florida’s second-year head coach also “taught classes, tended bar and worked at JCPenny’s.”

“I’ve come a ways,” he said.

Truly. 

McElwain joined the $4 million coaching club in February, as Florida announced his $750,000 raise on Friday. 

The Gators’ coach now earns $4.25 million annually, becoming the highest-paid coach in the SEC East after winning the division in his first year. 

“I’ve said this before but there’s times I just walk out to practice and it’s hard to imagine I’m at the University of Florida,” McElwain said. 

"It's so good to know that your university and your administration believes in the direction that we're taking this thing. It's something that sends a message in recruiting. Just the belief in our organization and where we're going. We got a ways to go now, but I'm happy for all of us."

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March 25, 2016

McElwain gets a raise, now the highest paid coach in SEC East

GAINESVILLE -- After becoming the first Florida coach to win 10 games in his inaugural season, Jim McElwain was rewarded with a raise. 

The Gators’ second-year coach received a $750,000 bump on Feb. 1, the school announced Friday. 

McElwain, whose deal runs through 2020, is now the highest paid coach in the SEC East, earning 4.25 million annually. 

The 54-year-old coach's compensation ranks sixth overall in the conference, behind Nick Saban ($6.9 million), Kevin Sumlin ($5 million), Hugh Freeze ($4.7 million), Gus Malzahn ($4.35 million) and Les Miles ($4.3 million).

"We recognized early in Coach Mac's tenure that he totally changed the vibe around football for The Gator Nation and in the building," UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. 

"Dr. Fuchs and I first talked about this in mid-October -- We didn't want to make it about winning one game or advancing to the SEC Championship Game.

"We wanted to make a change because of the direction of the program and his leadership. From the moment he set foot on this campus, he has steadily put into place his blueprint for the football program. His efforts have been relentless. We are very grateful to have him and his family in Gainesville."

Florida sprinted to a surprising 6-0 start in 2015, climbing as high as No. 8 in the polls. But following quarterback Will Grier’s suspension for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy, UF’s offense tanked and the team went 4-4 down the stretch including a three-game losing streak to end the season. 

Still, McElwain was named the SEC Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, earning a $25,000 bonus. McElwain also received bonuses for leading the Gators to the SEC Championship and the Citrus Bowl. 

"It's great to know that our university and administration believe in the direction we are taking this program,'' McElwain said in a statement. 

"This sends a strong message about the things we are putting in place and the work of the entire organization. It sends a real message in recruiting that we have the support and confidence in our long-term vision.”

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March 24, 2016

Notebook: Celebrity sightings, scrimmage details & more

GAINESVILLE -- Florida held its first scrimmage of the spring Thursday, but Wednesday’s practice was more like a red carpet event. 

A pair of current NFL head coaches, an Oscar-winning actor and a Gators legend all visited UF's workout, with coach Jim McElwain saying “that’s pretty special having those guys around.”

Former Heisman Trophy winner and National Champion head coach Steve Spurrier was in town, stopping by practice to lend some tips to McElwain and checkout his old stomping grounds. 

“I’m glad his accountant is here, gave him a reason to be in town,” McElwain quipped.

“Had a chance to visit with him. … Sitting down, it’s awakes great to talk to him. The guy meant so much to this program, obviously, not only as a player but what he did as a coach. Let’s fact it, the guy’s a former Gator and that’s cool.”

Spurrier spent time watching Florida’s four-headed battle at quarterback, with McElwain saying Spurrier “was exited to see when had some.”

“They threw the ball well, he said. He gave me a little, good critique about throwing the corner balls when we’re down in the red zone. It’s something that we’ve definitely talked about in the staff meetings. It makes a lot of sense. Like I said, having that guy around, that’s pretty neat.”

Meanwhile, the Head Ball Coach wasn’t the only celebrity in attendance, as Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was in town to watch his son Luke Del Rio -- the frontrunner for UF's starting quarterback job. Tagging along with Del Rio was close family friend Gene Hackmon. 

McElwain, a huge hoops fan, was floored by Hackman’s presence, calling “Hoosiers” once of his favorite films. 

“Automatic,” he said, laughing. 

Former Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was also at Wednesday practice, as were a number of former UF players (Keanu Neal, Antonio Morrison, Demarcus Robinson) and 2017 quarterback commit Jake Allen (St. Thomas Aquinas).  

SCRIMMAGE DETAILS

Thursday’s scrimmage was closed, but McElwian said the plan was rep between 117 to 128 plays, focusing on situational work. The Gators planned to work on red zone, third down, two-minute offense and goal-line. 

INJURY REPORT

Wideouts Ahmad Fulwood (leg) and ‘Dre Massey (leg) both sat out the scrimmage, while starting center Cam Dillard (broken nose) and defensive end Justus Reed (illness) were sidelined, too. 

McElwain wasn’t sure if sophomore tailback Jordan Scarlett (hamstring) would participate but wideout C.J. Worton, who took a spill in practice Wednesday, was “good to go.”

THIS & THAT

Early-enrollee quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask were scheduled to receive reps with the first-team offense during Thursday’s scrimmage. … McElwain identified Dillard and left tackle David Sharpe as offensive leaders this spring. He also named star linebacker Jarrad Davis and senior defensive end Bryan Cox as players who have taken additional leadership roles, too.

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March 23, 2016

Q&A: A six-pack of questions for DL coach Chris Rumph

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s defensive line coach Chris Rumph recently met with reporters and discussed replacing All-American defensive tackle Jon Bullard, the emergence of interior pass-rushers CeCe Jefferson and Caleb Brantley, as well as the progression of sophomore end Keivonnis Davis, a Miami Central product. 

How has the DL performed overall so far in camp?

"Guys are really, really working hard on both sides of the ball. Definitely seeing an improvement. Guys are picking up the concepts a little better from last year. They know where to go. They understand what we're expecting, so I've been really pleased so far."

What does Bullard bring to an NFL team?

“He's just a hard worker, a student of the game, a great guy on and off the field. You're not going to have to worry about the phone ringing at night or reading something on the ticker. He's that kind of guy. He can babysit my kids."

How hard is it to replace a guy like that?

"They say it was hard to replace Dante [Fowler Jr.], but Jon stepped up. So somebody will have to step up and be whoever that guy is this year. But at first it has to be a committee, and then hopefully one of those young guys or one of the old heads will take the bull by the horn and run with it."

Has Brantley seized that opportunity? 

“Caleb just made up his mind mentally that he wants to be a player. He's not giving in to some of the things from before. He's conditioning, being in shape and pushing."

What is Jefferson’s strength as a pass rusher?

“He's a guy that can play all four positions if he really wanted to. To have a guy like that inside is going to create some problems for people."

How has Davis progressed since last season?

“Tremendously. That guy's done a really good job of just picking up the defense. The other guys have done a good job of just coaching him up, helping him, calming him down and just giving him confidence in himself and his own abilities. … He’s picking up his scheme, he’s slowing down and he’s playing within himself. He’s not out there reaching and trying to do something outside the framework of the defense.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

March 22, 2016

Times, notes & quotes from Florida's annual Pro Day

Unnamed-1

GAINESVILLE -- The Gators held their annual Pro Day on Tuesday. 

Vernon Hargreaves III and Jon Bullard dominated the day, as 15 former Florida players participated in the showcase. 

Here are some unofficial results, as well as sights and sounds from the event. 

(UNOFFICIAL) 40-YARD DASH TIMES 

SS Keanu Neal: 4.52

WR Demarcus Robinson: 4.58

DB Brian Poole: 4.49 

LB Antonio Morrison: 5.0

TE Jake McGee: 4.76

Unnamed

NOTES

* Morrison, who missed the NFL Combine due to an illness, had 23 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press -- that would’ve been the third-best mark in Indianapolis. McGee, who also sat out the combine, showed well in positional drills, flashing his strong hands and a sleeker physique.

* Robinson clocked an almost identical 40-time as to what he ran in Indy (4.59). His vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle and broad jump were basically the same, too. 

* Tailback Kelvin Taylor improved his bench press by two reps, hitting 17 on Tuesday. 

* Defensive end Alex McCalister gained six pounds (up to 245) from his measurements at the combine. 

* Hargreaves is meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars on April 5 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on April 7. 

* Neal said he received a second-round draft grade by the NFL Advisory Committee. 

* Brian Poole has meetings lined up with New England, Tennessee, Arizona and others. 

QUOTEABLES

“This is for real. This is crazy.’ It was exciting, sitting in front of John Elway and sitting right in front of him and talking ball with him. It’s a dream come true. You’ve got this Hall of Famer and you’re sitting right in front of him talking ball just chatting it up. It’s still surreal to me honestly. I’m really humbled and blessed to have this opportunity.”

-- Safety Keanu Neal 

“The type of guy like me, these numbers and all that stuff ain’t going to show what type of player I am. You put the film on to see what type of guy I am. I’m a competitor. For what I had, I could have easily said I wasn’t going to do any of this stuff, but I’m a competitor and I wanted to come out here and compete with guys I’ve been doing it with for four years.”

-- Linebacker Antonio Morrison

“I'm kind of late first, early second [round] guy, so I don't want to be that guy sitting there [alone in the green room].”

-- Defensive tackle Jon Bullard 

FORMER GATORS IN THE HOUSE

A number of former Florida players came out and supported their buddies and old teammates Tuesday, including Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam, Washington Redskins tailback Matt Jones, San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Trenton Brown and Tennessee Titans safety Cody Riggs.

Chris Rainey, Tevin Westbrook and Mack Brown were also in attendance.

“Isn’t that cool,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. 

“I love it. As I’ve said, look I just happen to be sitting in the chair. These former players are the ones that put this program together. To see all of them come out and support their former teammates, I just really think that’s the way it should be. That’s what family is all about.” 

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March 21, 2016

Notebook: Pineiro progressing, Fulwood identified as a leader

GAINESVILLE -- Eddy Pineiro didn’t miss a kick in his first ever practice at Florida, and the Gators’ second-year head coach Jim McElwain continues to be impressed by his new specialist. 

“He’s been doing good,” McElwain said. 

“The operation times have steadily come down. It’s something that we needed to really work on from the start of practice.”

The Gators finished 2015 with the nation’s second-worst field goal percentage (41.2), missing 10 of 17 kicks. Now they hope the Miami native is the answer to their woes. 

Pineiro, the nation's No. 1 JUCO kicker in the 2016 class, is UF’s sole scholarship kicker in spring camp after the much-maligned Austin Hardin left the program.   

While Pineiro boasts a rocket leg, he’s has never kicked in a live game, so McElwain is using the spring as a vital preparation period for the fall. 

“We're putting him in situations every day where he doesn't quite know when it's going to happen,” McElwain said. 

“So his understanding that you kind of have to be ready throughout the practice or just like a game. You never know when those kicks are going to come. The thing I've been happy with is the operation times have come down. He's starting to move on the ball a little quicker. It's great to see the ball really get up as quick as it does off his foot."

THIS & THAT

McElwain expects junior wideout Alvin Bailey (back) and junior defensive end Jordan Sherit (hamstring/leg) to return to practice this week, but UF’s coach also complimented JUCO-wideout ‘Dre Massey and sophomore end Keivonnis Davis for their strong work filling in for the injured players. … Senior Ahmad Fulwood was mentioned as a leader in the receivers group by McElwain. … Florida’s coach said the spring is an excellent opportunity to work on special teams fundamentals, specifically mentioning “the competition piece” that comes with the various drills. 

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March 20, 2016

Florida Gators OC Doug Nussmeier: "This is a special place"

GAINESVILLE -- For just the second time in the last six years, the Florida Gators will have the same offensive coordinator for two straight seasons. 

They almost didn’t, though. 

In late January, Doug Nussmeier was considered the frontrunner for the opening at Southern Miss. The former offensive coordinator at Alabama and Michigan interviewed for the head coaching job but ultimately decided to stay at Florida. 

He explained why on Friday. 

“This is a special place,” Nussmeier said. 

“My family and I feel very blessed and fortunate to be here. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t feel fortunate to be a part of such a great program with a great tradition. It’s an honor to walk out here everyday and be the OC.”

The Gators finished the 2015 season with the nation’s No. 112 total offense (just 334.0 yards per game), as the Oct. 12 suspension to starting quarterback Will Grier zapped any early season progress. Florida ended the year on a three-game losing streak and scored just a single touchdown in blowout losses to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan.  

Still, Nussmeier’s offense flashed some potential, and the 45-year-old assistant is confident his unit can build on some of its early season’s successes -- especially with a deeper talent pool at quarterback, running back and receiver in 2016. 

“Southern Miss was an opportunity that presented itself,” he said. 

“I just felt good about what we’re starting to develop here. We’re still a ways away. But I felt really good about our situation here and the things we’re going to be able to accomplish over time.”

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March 17, 2016

Caleb Brantley: "I feel like I'm the best d-lineman in the country"

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators have had a defensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for three straight seasons, and and former UF standout Jon Bullard could make it four in a row this April. 

Now, another Gators defensive lineman is already chasing his own future first-round dreams. 

Caleb Brantley was a productive player as a redshirt sophomore in 2015, but the 6-2, 300-pound tackle was often overshadowed by Florida’s other defensive stars. 

Not anymore. 

After racking up 29 tackles, 6.5 TFL and three sacks last season, Brantley is ready to become a household name. 

“I feel like I’m the best d-lineman in the country,” he said. 

“So I’m going to go out and try to prove it.”

Last season, UF’s coaches praised Brantley for his improved motor, practice habits and unselfishness. He’s only getting better this spring. 

“I’ve been really happy with Caleb,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. 

“I think Jon Bullard did a great job kind of teaching him what it so to be that person. So far, he’s been really good this offseason.”

Brantley has come along way in four years, developing from a moody and raw playmaker into a reliable leader and budding star. He learned a lot from Bullard and is now paying it forward with sophomore stud CeCe Jefferson and the rest of UF’s defensive linemen. He’s accepted he’ll be double-teamed on nearly every snap, too. 

“[Bullard taught me how to be a leader, a role model to the younger guys. Always do stuff right,” he said.

“I can’t be selfish, you feel me? If you’re good, you’re going to get double-teamed nine out of 10 times. It’s a chance for other guys to step up. I’m not the only one on the d-line that’s a hell-raiser.”

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March 16, 2016

Florida-Georgia rivalry to remain in Jacksonville through 2021

GAINESVILLE -- The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party isn’t going anywhere. 

The Florida-Georgia game will stay in Jacksonville through 2021, as first reported by Jacksonville.com Wednesday. 

The two schools agreed on a five-year extension with the city, as the current contract was set to expire after the Oct. 29 game this fall. 

“We could not be more excited about our continued partnership with two of the nation’s finest universities,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said in a statement. 

“Our new agreement further strengthens the Georgia-Florida tradition we have enjoyed here in Jacksonville for 83 years. The legendary rivalry continues and the best is yet to come.”

The delay in contract negotiations was mainly over questions about the ongoing EverBank Field renovations and the potential impact on crowd capacity. Those concerns were alleviated, apparently, but the schools still hold plenty of leverage in future negotiations. 

“We are excited to continue the tradition of playing the Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a release.”

“As I’ve said a number of times over the years, the game belongs in Jacksonville. Thanks to the hard work and the cooperation of the city of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Jaguars and our counterparts at Georgia, it will continue to be in Jacksonville.”

Both teams will reportedly receive a $125,000 signing bonus and $250,000 annually to defray expenses. The annual showdown is a cash-cow for the City of Jacksonville, as the game was once again a sellout in 2015. More than 5 million people watched the broadcast on CBS and the city made an estimated $35 million in revenue

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March 14, 2016

UF dominating the diamond, Sloan scores another 10 & more

GAINESVILLE -- Roundup!

While Florida’s men’s basketball team bowed out of the SEC Tournament early and the football team had a couple days off, a number of other UF teams were back in action over the weekend. 

Take a look at how they faired. 

First things first, Florida’s diamond dominance continued, as the baseball and softball teams moved to a combined 43-1 after Sunday. 

Kevin O’Sullivan’s No. 1 Gators baseball teams swept Harvard, winning Saturday’s day-night doubleheader thanks to a pair of 3-run homers by Peter Alonso and Nelson Maldonado in the afternoon and a superb pitching performance by Alex Faedo (8.1 innings, career-high 13 strikeouts and just one earned run) in the night cap. UF has won 11 straight and will host No. 11 Florida State on Tuesday (7 p.m., SEC Network). 

Meanwhile, Florida’s top-ranked softball team will look to sweep No. 3 Auburn today (7 p.m., SEC Network) after winning the first two games of the series over the weekend. The Gators, now 26-0, knocked off the Tigers 6-3 and 8-5, as Aleshia Ocasio (9-0) picked up both wins in relief. Freshman Kayli Kvistad hit a clutch 3-run homer in Game 1, while UF drilled three more dingers in Game 2. 

On Friday, Florida’s gymnastics team was in action one last time in the O’Connell Center this season, and All-American senior Bridget Sloan led the way again, scoring a 10 on her floor routine as No. 2 UF beat North Carolina 198.050-193.725. 

Sloan was one of four seniors honored Friday, and the group aims to lead UF to its fourth consecutive National Championship later this spring.

UF men’s and women’s track and field teams stumbled at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The Gators finished a disappointing seventh and didn’t have an individual men’s national champion.  Mike Holloway’s men’s team also failed to extend its streak of seven-straight finishes inside the top-3. 

The women’s team placed 14th, but senior sprinter Kyra Jefferson did place second in the 200-meter dash. 

One notable track and field nugget lost in the shuffle from two weeks ago at the SEC Indoor Championships: UF freshman Jontavia Dykes broke a freshman record in the weight throw, taking fourth place with a mark of 19.27 meters. Dykes, a Miami Northwestern product, bested Candice Scott’s record of 18.79 meters in 2001. 

Dykes’ mother Pat Jackson wrote in an email to the Herald, “As a proud Gator Mom & Gospel Recording Artist, I can truly say that after surviving so many obstacles in my life -- as a stage 4 Cancer Survivor, a survivor of 6 car accidents, 4 major surgeries, a near missed bullet and after death experience -- once against God has allowed me LIFE to see this great accomplishment.” 

Florida’s lacrosse team, now ranked No. 2 nationally, remained undefeated over the weekend, knocking off No. 14 Boston College 13-5. The Gators (8-0) moved to 5-0 against ranked teams this season. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 11, 2016

WR Antonio Callaway's attorney says allegation has no merit

GAINESVILLE -- Florida star receiver Antonio Callaway was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 27 for violating the university’s code of conduct, but on Friday the sophomore’s attorney said Callaway should be reinstated immediately. 

“There is no good reason why this investigation has not been closed,” said attorney Huntley Johnson in a release. 

“This allegation has no merit.”

Callaway’s suspension resolves from a complaint in early December, per Johnson. The attorney also wrote that his office conducted its own private investigation and found that the accusation has no basis.

No further details were added. 

Florida coach Jim McElwain adamantly refused to discuss the situation Tuesday when he officially announced the suspension of Callaway and former starting quarterback Treon Harris, who is not being represented by Johnson.

The longtime Gainesville lawyer has represented dozens of UF athletes in the past, including Harris when the quarterback faced a sexual assault accusation in 2014. 

Last season, Callaway, a Miami native, was Florida’s best playmaker, breaking multiple school records and combining for seven touchdowns (four receiving, two returning, one passing).  

Huntley Johnson, Esq. full release:

On January 27, 2016 the University of Florida suspended Antonio Callaway for a violation of the Student Conduct Code. 

The suspension was due to an incident which supposedly occurred in early December 2015. 

Mr. Callaway is on interim suspension from the University of Florida pending resolution of the accusation. 

At this time the University of Florida has not presented to Mr. Callaway or Undersigned Counsel any evidence relating to Mr. Callaway’s suspension. 

Be that as it may, the law firm of Johnson & Osteryoung has conducted its own investigation as to the allegation that is the basis for the suspension. 

There is no good reason why this investigation has not been closed. This allegation has no merit. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Florida falls to Texas A&M, NCAA Tournament hopes likely dashed

GAINESVILLE -- After a gut-wrenching 72-66 loss to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals on Friday, Florida will likely watch the NCAA Tournament from home for the second straight season. 

The Gators, slotted among the ‘Next Four Out’ in ESPN’s latest bracket, needed to beat the top-seeded Aggies in Nashville to have any legitimate chance at securing an at-large berth. 

While junior guard Kasey Hill (18 points, two assists) and Dorian Finney-Smith (11 points, nine rebounds, three blocks) played well, Florida (19-14, 9-9 SEC) was hammered inside, allowing 44 points in the paint -- its most in five years, per ESPN. 

The Gators, who moved to just 1-7 against ranked teams, will officially await their fate on Selection Sunday, but they’re almost certainly bookmarked for a high seed in the NIT. 

However, Florida will be forced to play on the road due to the ongoing renovations at the O’Connell Center. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 10, 2016

Problem solved? Pineiro perfect on first day of spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s kicking game was a disaster last season. 

The Gators made just 7 of 17 field goals -- the second-worst percentage nationally -- and the situation became so dire that coach Jim McElwain solicited students to try and find a solution. 

McElwain’s midseason ploy didn’t work either, but the second-year coach hopes he’s finally found an answer to UF’s problems. 

Enter Eddy Pineiro. 

The Miami native and No. 1 JUCO kicker enters the spring with an opportunity to win the starting job immediately. Pineiro has never kicked a live field goal -- not in high school or at ASA College in North Miami Beach -- but the redshirt sophomore was so impressive on the recruiting circuit that both McElwain and Alabama coach Nick Saban desperately sought his signature. 

When Pineiro committed to the Gators in December, McElwain went nuts.

On Wednesday, UF opened spring practice and Pineiro was perfect kicking field goals, drilling a 58-yarder to end the day. 

“He actually made them all, which was interesting,” McElwain said, smiling. 

“We’ve got to work on our timing, but the ball got up really quick. He finished here with, what was it, a 58-yarder here with everybody around him.”

Pineiro routinely posts viral videos nailing 70-yard field goals or trick shot kicks, so much so that McElwain joked about the kicker’s instant popularity Wednesday.

“This is the first time I haven’t seen it on social media,” McElwain said, chuckling. 

“But the ball comes up real quick and goes very far.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 09, 2016

On the rise: UF releases latest hype video before spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida opens spring camp today, looking to build on last season's surprising 10-4 season. 

On Tuesday, second-year coach Jim McElwain said the players "have an understanding on the expectations and how to go about their business now."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 08, 2016

Anzalone cleared but Ivey and Powell to miss spring practice

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators open spring practice Wednesday, and Antonio Callaway and Treon Harris won’t be the only notables not in camp. 

While UF’s star receiver and former starting quarterback are suspended indefinitely, the Gators will also be without a number of injuried players including junior wideout Brandon Powell (foot) and offensive lineman Martez Ivey (shoulder). Both Powell and Ivey, a former five-star recruit who started multiple games as a freshman, had offseason surgeries. 

Meanwhile, kickers Jorge Powell (ACL) and Neil MacInnes (ACL) will also miss the spring, and cornerback Quincy Wilson (sports hernia) and defensive tackle Joey Ivie (sports hernia) will be limited/non-contact.

“They’ve been running them pretty good,” UF coach Jim McElwain said of Wilson and Ivie. 

“In fact, Quincy, I was really impressed with how he ran yesterday. I don’t see any lingering effects there.”

Still, Florida will be short on numbers in the secondary this spring, so early enrollees McArthur Burnett and Chauncey Gardner will get ample opportunities to impress. 

“The numbers are short, so Chauncey and McArthur are going to get tons of reps,” McElwain said.

“And here’s the good thing: They’re going to be taught as well by some really good players.”

Finally, McElwain delivered some good news on linebacker Alex Anzalone, saying the former starter has been cleared for non-contact work in practice after missing 12 games with a significant shoulder injury last season. 

“Alex had a real bounce in his step when he came back with the news,” McElwain said. 

“In fact, he texted me on my birthday to let me know. You can tell the excitement is there. ‘Man, this is finally over. The duct tape was solid.’”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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